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Chapter Two 


The Living Tree Principle


            Still early the next morning considering how late they had been up, Drake knocked on Reid's door to see if he wanted to take a tour of the campus. He glanced out of his window and saw the deep blue of the sky.

            "Sure, give me five."

            When he went downstairs he saw Taylor asleep on the couch directly under the sun coming through the bay window in their living room.

            "He didn't even make it to his own bed," said Drake. Lying on his back he was wearing his Birkenstocks and a tweed jacket.

            "Why's he wearing a tweed jacket?"

            "Not sure, though I think he had a woman over here last night." Small beads of sweat had formed on his upper lip, and a phone number was written on his hand with a name above it.

            Outside in the fresh morning air people were pedalling their mountain bikes with swift assurance. The large amount of debris on the dew-coated lawns and cup-covered streets made the ghetto look like a combat zone. Across the road a student unloaded her things while her mother surveyed the carnage of the previous night's festivities. Her Mercedes' licence plate read: WAS HIS. Beyond the bewildered mother an old Vietnamese woman was picking up empty bottles and cans, her old gym bag full of refundable goods.

            Within a couple of minutes they were at the main campus intersection beside the John Deutsch Centre and Sidewalk Café, already packed with students. A culture of academia. From the street in front of huge stained-glass windows that dominated Douglas Library the university crest was engraved over the corner window with the words: SAPIENTIA ET DOCTRINA STABILITAS engraved under it.

            "Know what that Latin means up there?" Drake usually had answers to the obscure.

            "From my shoddy Latin I'd guess it means knowledge is the doctrine of stability, or philosophy is the means to stability, or some variation thereof."

            "Philosophy. I don't understand why anyone would study philosophy. I mean what's the point? What kind of skill do you have with a philosophy degree?" Ivy covering the library wall was mostly dead but had a few live strands of healthy green leaves jutting up from the partially dead root. They walked past the nineteenth century Fine Arts building with the three gothic arches in front of the two sets of old wooden doors, rounded arches flanked by two huge turrets with narrow-arched windows.

            "You know my Dad always said that to," he went on with his one-sided rhetoric. "And I must say I agree with him. How does writing an essay on Plato's contribution to Western thought give you the skills you need to find a good job? And to tell you the truth, I can't either." Reid extended his hands as if giving up, but he knew he was speaking to Michelle by proxy.

            "Don't you see that that's not the point? It's not a question of knowing Plato's contribution or why Hegel was important. It's about learning how to read and learning how to express ideas in writing."

            "I don't know about that. You're reaching."

            "It's about learning how to express yourself and articulate thoughts, the kind of skills that benefit you everyday, and affect the way you look at the world."

            "But what kind of job can you get?" This question was an unsolvable contradiction that had become a blind itch that had bothered him since he chose his major.

            Drake pointed at a limestone building with the architecture of a church, a five-story tower with a bell and clock with crisp Roman numerals contrasted against its black lustre background. A Queen's flag flew in the wind above.

            "Do you remember when we studied the Living Tree Principle last year in history class for that chapter on the constitution?"

            "No, not really." All a blur.

            "Well," he sighed. "Simply put it's a term used to describe how constitutional law is always changing and growing, not stagnant and not resistant to change."


            "Some people are open-minded and are able to listen to new ideas and different opinions, while others who are close-minded don't allow any new ideas."


            "So can't the Living Tree Principle also be applied to people?"


            "Couldn't we represent a changing and evolving constitution ourselves?"

            "We're living trees?"

            "Yes, better living than dead."

            "That sounds ridiculous Drake." Voice now impatient.

            "Reid, don't be so narrow-minded. It's the fastest way to living in a cesspool of fear." Words specifically chosen for him.

            They walked to a bench beside a rugby pitch to watch a group of girls playing an organized scrimmage of rugby. Amid dropped passes and timid tackles, it was the first time Reid had ever seen women's rugby.

            "Think about philosophy is. It's the study of wisdom. How can wisdom be a useless thing in life? It's the study of the greatest minds who ever lived. I wouldn't call that a waste of time. You'd use those thinking skills everyday. Probably save you from making many a tragic mistake throughout your life."

            "Never thought of it in those terms." Reid grabbed a cluster of moist grass and looked across the field at the goal posts.

            "In a way it's likely the wisest thing a man can study." The smell of the hot soil permeated into the potent air around him.

            "Yeah. I see where you're going with that." That look that Michelle had given him flooded his mind. It was the threatening aspect that had bothered him.

            They saw an elderly gentleman strolling across fresh divots at the end of the pitch who wore a Deerstalker and dipped his hat at Reid and Drake.

            "Very professorial."

            "All right. That's it. I'm going to take philosophy for my elective. What the hell." Reid's words were firm but his resolve was thin.




            When he and Drake strolled in to the house Taylor was slouched on the couch in his surf shorts reading Brave New World by Huxley. Judging from the out-of-whack angle of his body and stern brow, he was enthralled. Reid approached slowly but the hardwood floor creaked just enough for Taylor to turn with lightning quickness. Eyes wider than seemed possible that showed complete abandon, taking a moment before Taylor's rubicund face returned.

            "Good book?"

            "You scared the hell out of me." Taylor marked his place with a pizza coupon. "Well yeah, it's a good book. Alphas, epsilons, soma; it's prophetic." Reid fell on the old lounge chair beside the couch. "Non-conformists buggering off to Greenland, man." Sitting up, he looked like a guy who could talk for hours about books, but wasn't encouraged by Reid.

            "Listen Reid," he said sitting up. "I went to the gym this morning-"

            "This morning?"

            "Yeah, this morning. And I saw a note on the bulletin board that said the novice rowing try-outs are on the weekend, Saturday morning at seven."

            "Rowing?" Taylor put his book on the table.

            "Yeah. I don't know about you but it's something I've always wanted to do. My brother rowed in his first year when he was here. I'm going to show up at the try-outs tomorrow." He looked at Drake sitting on the other chair.

            "You're doing your equestrian piece," then his eyes narrowed on Reid.

            "You should come with me. I know where it is. We can ride our bikes."

            "Ah, I don't know Taylor. I've never rowed before."

            "So, neither have I. It's novice. No one has."

            "Well-" To Reid it didn't make any sense to complicate his term with rowing; it didn't fit into his plan.

            "The point is that you haven't done it before. Rowing will be a new experience." Drake nodded in agreement.

            "Yeah McFetty, why wouldn't you?"

            "I wasn't planning on it."

            "So, neither was I." Something in Taylor's eye made me think about it. The idea of being on water was luring. But more than that was the idea of being on the team with Taylor. It was easier than doing it alone. The idea was gaining momentum.

            "What exactly is the deal then?"

            "I talked to the guy at the athletic centre and I think he said the season would last into the late fall, and that there would be a regatta almost every weekend starting in two weeks. Practices are in the morning at six at the rowing club, starting at the end of the week. We'll all be rookies."


            "And for the tryouts there's a twelve-minute run and then five minutes on the rowing machine," he added nonchalantly.

            "Ah, I don't know," he answered cautiously, thinking of his father. His father expected A's and nothing else this term.

            "As my brother always said to me: `don't be neophobic.'"


            "Yeah, afraid to try new things. Listen, just because you've never rowed is no reason not to. Just think of the girls that we'll meet, and the other schools we'll visit, and the road trips."

            "Mmm, the regattas could be fun," he said like a fence sitter, careful not to commit.

            "Well then, whaddya say?" He didn't answer. "`But when one is young,'" Taylor said, pointing his finger in the air like a teacher, "`one must see things, gather experience, ideas; enlarge the mind.'" Taylor chuckled. "The Russian said that in Heart of Darkness. I can't agree with that enough. You?" He knew Taylor was looking for a wingman.

            "Okay, I'll ride to the tryouts with you." A youthful mischievousness unleashed itself in his gut with these words.

Overcoming Neophobia


            To acclimatize students to their new culture and to meet other freshmen the parties and Purple Jesus and abusive Gaels and live bands continued all week. At the end of the week their fourth housemate finally arrived. Alex, a thin and freckled redhead ‘strange piece,' was the opposite of Taylor. He had missed Frosh Week completely so he could work an extra week before coming to school on Friday. In the big picture it was difficult for Reid to rationalize missing Frosh Week for an extra five days of minimum wage, the opportunity cost being immense. It was clear to see from his greasy hair and threadbare flannel shirts he hadn't grown up with much money. So it wasn't surprising when he heard Alex was majoring in commerce.

            After he unpacked he came into the living room as he and Taylor discussed the tryouts tomorrow.

            "Have you bought your textbooks yet?" asked Reid.

            "No, I was going to do that today," he said.

            "So was I. I think we still have time." So they both left with their booklist for the bookstore. Being in that crowded bookstore with all those students elbowing and jostling made him feel like he was about to burst. It was an understatement to say it was crowded, more like academic sardines. Alex bought all his books second-hand but Reid only bought one book. He just didn't feel like buying business books. In fact he wasn't interested in studying business. He knew it was easy to say he chose business because of his father but it was a cop out. It was his decision and one he was already regretting. He grabbed his side with his hand as if he had a cramp but he didn't though it made me feel better. He couldn't breathe so instead of purchasing commerce textbooks he ended up in the philosophy section. He flipped through every book they had practically with strange titles and names of philosophers like Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein and Kant and Hume. Glancing through these philosophy books took him away from his pain. It was there in the philosophy section in the bookstore that he realized that he truly did want to take philosophy for his elective.

            "Balls to Monty!" he said in the bookstore scrum. He decided he wasn't going to tell his father about it and bought the textbook for the philosophy class he wanted to take.




            He and Taylor cycled down to the rowing club on Gananoque River before six. It was way off campus, which was good. Reid was already tiring of all the parties and drinking and all the craziness.

            The rowing club was old. It had those smells that old clubs have that are made out of wood. Maybe it was the smell of history but it brought him back a hundred years. Plaques from past rowing titles adorned the walls, along with other regalia including a pair of antique oars. He liked the club immediately, which made him nervous because he knew then he really wanted to make the crew. Over fifty guys were there. It was a relief they started with a twelve-minute run because he was able to channel his nerves into the run to place third. Pulling on the rowing machine called an ergometer for five minutes proved to be a lot tougher.

            "Are you okay man?" a voice was saying. Since he had never rowed on an ergometer before, he didn't pace himself properly. The contraption was like a rowing machine but the handle was a simulated oar of a boat that was heavy that had to be balanced horizontally on a wheel so it forced you to have good technique. He had misjudged how demanding it was. When he watched the first few rowers on the ergometer, they had proper technique and made it look easy, but he didn't have any technique. The long metal "oar" was shimmying all over the place when he started, so he focused on keeping it straight as hell. Then, after everything had been going well for the first couple of minutes, his arms and legs turned into warm rubber. He almost panicked with so many guys standing around watching. He was more concerned with finishing the five minutes without falling off. He kept pulling at the same pace until the next thing he knew he was frantically unlacing the straps from his feet and stumbling off the ergometer. The last two minutes were a blank. His hands were shaking like hell and could hardly control his numb arms. When he stood up his legs were so wobbly that he damn near walked into someone. He hated people gawking when he was trying his best not to fall off the damn thing.

            Feeling nauseous he stumbled on the grass outside the rowing club on the verge of dry heaving. Unable to sit down on the grass because it was too muddy, he finally had to lean on the side of a trailer loaded with rowing boats that smelled of wood glue.

            "Nice one McFetty, you kicked come serious ass." Taylor was standing beside him sucking in the air he needed. Leaning on Taylor for support, he looked out to the water feeling a cold haze flood his head like a chilled ocean wave. Then he saw stars and thought he was going to faint.

            "Where'd you snag all that stamina from?" Taylor's words sort of snapped him out of it.

            "I go running with Drake often," he replied by reflex. "What did I pull?"

            "I think you pulled over sixty-two fifty. The top is still Harold." Looking back he saw Harold in the crowd, the largest candidate who had biceps the size of Taylor's calves.

            "Yeah but Harold-" he started to say, still light-headed.

            "You must be among the top three or four combined," he said. Then he caught the coach looking at him. A short stocky, third-year medical student, who looked as if he had been up all night at the hospital, gave Reid a nod acknowledging his five-minute piece. That nod was all he needed to know that he had made the Queen's crew.



Table of Contents

1.     The Student Ghetto
2.     The Living Tree Principle 
3.     Overcoming Neophobia 
4.     Socrates' Big Swinging Ice Pick 
5.     Life As An Adjective 
6.     The Timestealer 
7.     Range of Multiplicity 
8.     The Banks 
9.     The Means is the End 
10.  The White Haired Doctor 
11.  Mortally Wounded 
12.  Visigoth Code of Ethics 
13.  Cognitive Dissonance 
14.  The Chinese Laundry Café 
15.  Catching a Crab 
16.  Sheer Recklessness 
17.  Shattered Glass 
18.  In His Father's Voice 
19.  The Dreamstealer 
20.  The Vine of Resentment 
21.  The Golden Mean 
22.  The Altered Eye Alters All 
23.  Missing the Middle Part 
24.  Anima 
25.  Taylor Not Afraid 
26.  Beyond the Monoperspectival Norm 
27.  The Grip 
28.  Visigoths in Tweed 
29.  The Unseen Hand 
30.  Dislocation 
31.  Pouring Heavens of Valhalla
32.  So Then...  

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Bruce Hornsby's "Mandolin Rain"


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